Sleep with the Lights On
by Maggie Shayne
Book 1 of Brown and de Luca
Her cynicism wavers when a cornea transplant restores her sight. The new eyes seem to give her new life, until they prove too good to be true and she starts seeing terrifying visions of brutal murders - crimes she soon learns are all too real.
Detective Mason Brown's own brother recently died, leaving behind a horrific secret. In atonement, Mason donated his brother's organs, though he's kept the fact quiet. Now he wants to help Rachel find her brother, but when he discovers the shocking connection between her visions and his own brother, he suddenly has to do everything in his power to save her from a predator who is somehow still hunting from beyond the grave.
Sleep with the Lights On was a book I had been looking forward to, because it had a premise that reminded me of the 2002 Hong Kong movie, The Eye. It's probably safe to say that while the premise is somewhat similar, the story itself is completely different. In the movie, our main female character gets a cornea graft from a woman who had psychic powers and could see when tragedy was about to happen. In this book, however, it seems that Rachel's visions and nightmares stem from the evil, psychotic mind of a serial killer after receiving his cornea tissue.
At first, my feelings about this book had been slightly wary throughout the first couple chapters. I recall there being a very distinct 'WTF' moment roiling through my thoughts. There was eye popping involved, there was blinking involved, there were even moments wherein I actually said out loud, "Da fuck is going on here?" Some stuff was creepy, other stuff was just... strange.
But then the story just sort of jump-started, and everything was smooth sailing from there.
Sleep with the Lights On was highly enjoyable, lots of fun, immensely creepy, and I could not put it down because I was THAT hooked! And while I had found the two main characters, Mason Brown and Rachel de Luca hard to like at first impression, it doesn't take long for them--probably about two chapters--to become the awesome characters I ended up loving. Especially Rachel!
I'll admit, Rachel's snarky sarcasm was a little rough and difficult to take at first, but then you get more of an in-depth look at this woman, and you see all the layers and layers of Rachel de Luca, and you realize how much you really DO like her because of all those layers and because of all that snark. Her sarcasm was fun and the directions in which her mind wanders brought me endless amusement. But what I found extremely endearing about her had been her moments right after the surgery wherein she just seems to bask in her newly acquired sight and just seems to enjoy herself. I absolutely loved her reaction to everything she sees for the first time, or her excitement about seeing certain things for the first time since she went blind at the age of twelve.
It was one of the things that really made Rachel such a complex, interesting character. Because while she projects a false persona to the public, claiming to be hiding a cynical and bitchy reputation underneath, even further into the layers of Rachel de Luca is so much more to discover. She falls in love with a blind bull dog despite not wanting a dog in the first place. She shows how much she truly loves and cares for the people around even though she continuously acts bitchy around them.
A lot of her actions are quite sweet and cute, to be honest. Then add that dry sarcasm and her straight-forward personality that doesn't take any bullshit and we've got a great main character with a lot of story potential to look forward to.
Detective Mason Brown took a little bit more time to like, if only because I'm so used to reading formulaic romantic suspense where our heroes are always so straight-laced, and righteous, and broody. I had a bad feeling the moment Mason chooses to cover up his brother's heinous crimes. I had difficulty connecting with something like that. But then something that Rachel says towards the climax of the book changed my feelings about Mason Brown. And I realized that I actually loved that our main detective hero isn't a hundred percent Mr. Justice-Seeking Captain America Built On Perfection. I actually really, really appreciate his weakness being so front and center, and his person being flawed enough not to be the ideal perfect hero.
I love that he continues to let his one big mistake (and I honestly believe it was a big one), to eat at him. I'm not sadistic or anything. I'd love even more if he can resolve his problems. But it just feels more realistic that he doesn't absolve his guilt even though it still feels like he made a reasonable choice.
And in this way, I ended up loving both of our main characters because they come off so real and so human. In the same sense, the rest of the characters in the book give off that same vibe as well--realistic, human, and so much potential for storytelling with the rest of the series ongoing.
After that little revelation, it took me less than a second to decide that I really, really love this book. And most importantly, I love Rachel's snark. It adds character and personality to typically straight-laced romance novel heroines. I love how much gray area there is in the events of this book. I love all the side characters: Rachel's sister, Sandra and her family; Rachel's assistant, Amy; Mason's partner, Rosie...
I also liked that the romance was a little on the sidelines. I mean, sure there was instant attraction and lust and the good stuff. And sure, I sometimes like my instant gratification of our couple falling in love within the span of one book and having their Happily Ever After™. But there are more books to go in the rest of this series following these same characters. I think I'm going to be content with the slow development of this couple's romance, so I'm more or less satisfied with the fact that Rachel and Mason don't bond immediately, and no words of love are thrown around willy-nilly.
And finally... I really, really loved Myrtle, the little blind bulldog. Books with animals in them, when written well, always add points to my overall experience. And Myrtle was wonderfully adorable and all sorts of hearts and stars and bunny rabbit, rainbows, and sunshine lovely!
There were things I DID NOT LIKE, of course.
Anyone who follows my reviews know I do not really care for first person POV narration. In some cases, it's not so bad and I love it. And to be honest, if Sleep with the Lights On had been written entirely in Rachel's first person narrative, I would have been quite happy--Rachel's voice is excellently amusing and strewn with very natural side comments and wandering tangents and, best of all, THE SNARK. But the book itself is actually written in an alternating first person with Rachel, to a third person for everyone else, mainly following Mason.
I just don't think I'll ever understand the point of alternating first person to third person. Why not just write the entire book in third person? You'd still be able to incorporate Rachel's sarcastic streak, even if not as in-depth. And I can kind of see that this alternating format gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to being able to see Mason's side of the story as well as Rachel's every conscious thought.
Still, it's a little jarring, because confusion happens. In fact, there was a very, glaringly obvious part in the book where Rachel is narrating in her POV, then the narration switches to third person for about two or three sentences, then switches right back to Rachel's first person POV. I had to reread that section to be sure it wasn't just me.
The other thing I didn't really like about this book was the whole concept of an evil serial killer's donated organs creating killers out of the recipients via cellular consciousness. But I suppose this is a controversy that has been going on for a long time already, in which recipients of donated organs might end up with some of the traits from said organ donor. It's an interesting subject to explore, but that just kind of comes back to the whole debate about nature versus nurture and if there truly is an evil gene embedded in certain people's DNA make-up... and that just opens up a whole can of worms for many people to argue about.
I look forward to seeing said controversy in the rest of series if we're going in that direction, because this subject has not been fully explored in this particular book by itself. Would have been nice, but I think Sleep with the Lights On was more concerned about resolving the whole serial killer issue first and foremost, I suppose.
So in a way, the entire "cellular consciousness" thing wasn't really all that disagreeable to me, to be honest. Probably just the way the serial killer angle of it all was handled seemed a little questionable.
But otherwise this book was darn near wonderfully perfect. I suppose I'll just have to get used to the alternating POV if I want to continue reading the rest of the series... which I fully intend to do.
2016 Reading Challenges:
• Goodreads Reading Challenge
• BookLikes Reading Challenge
• Reading Assignment Challenge
• COYER Summer Vacation 2016 -- Bingo Board One | Square Y3 -- Thriller
• Can You Read a Series in a Month? Challenge